Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Designs on the Roof of the World

by Chris Evans

The work of the Himalayan Permaculture Centre

One of the great things about permaculture is how versatile it is in its application: not only across the vast range of climates and topographies on the planet, but also across cultures and societies. Nowhere is that more apparent to me than in the contrast between "East and West" or "North and South". At their extremes, wealthy and resource-access rich cultures that are fossil-fuel subsidised and dependent, and subsistence cultures where what people live by is what they grow and gather from the forests.

The former is like in the UK, while the latter is like in the remote areas of upland Nepal, where the Himalayan Permaculture Centre (HPC) chooses to work. The aims of the application of permaculture are very similar: to foster resilience and regeneration to a more abundant, sustainable future. The basis of the tools used are also similar in terms of the ethics, philosophy and principles of permaculture, and the step-by-step nature of the design process are also appropriate. It is the context that could hardly be more of a contrast.

In rural Nepal, people have huge skills in reading the landscape and understanding soil, water, and biodiversity, and incredibly complex and nurturing social interaction. Yet they have little or no access to health, education, credit, infrastructure and technology. Thus, communities are in an opposite paradigm to us in the UK, where we have all the benefits of modern society but have largely lost our connection to nature and the empowerment that brings.

Ironically in Nepal farmers would gladly turn their backs on their riches for a more comfortable and secure lifestyle and they are, in huge numbers, leaving the villages to seek low-paid and exploitative work overseas. In the UK we think of leaving the "rat-race" and returning to a simpler way of living. Both concepts of course have their misconceptions and there's no such thing as a free lunch. For both, the great turning is needed but it seems to be in different directions!

Photo by Chris Evans
HPC works to address the spectrum of needs: Firstly, food security in terms of soil, water and biodiversity management involves working with the skills people have while trying, for example, to make the work of increasing fertility easier. This may be through bringing forest resources on-farm with agroforestry, or rice production using less water and more output per acre with SRI (system of rice intensification), or better ways to compost, and diversification of crops – especially fruit and vegetables. The aim is less input for greater output, and new skills are taught to reach this aim, from grafting fruit trees and green manures to livestock health and beekeeping.

Secondly, it is health program works, on the basis that healthy people can farm and manage their resources better and easier, and the best way to health is through preventative measures rather than fighting fires. So along with raising awareness of women's rights and running training and clinics for diagnosis and treatment of women's health issues, often using locally available herbs, they are involved in making drinking water systems and building smokeless stoves, which also have the effect of reducing fuel wood use, thus linking with the food security work.

Jana Jyoti group of Thulo Khaltakura after completing a mobile women's health training.
Source: http://www.himalayanpermaculture.com/#/reports/4557141465 Find lots more images from HPC here.
HPC's third area of work is in education. Here it is working with schools on providing extra and intra-curricular classes for children, and designing school land to be more productive. HPC also teaches literacy (another skill we take for granted in the West) through use of the Farmers' Handbook, stacking functions by teaching reading and writing at the same time as making liquid manure.

The fourth area of HPC's work is around generating livelihoods so farmers can learn about income generation enterprises - not just the skills to enact them, but that there needs to be a basis of sustainable and regenerative resource use, specifically energy and water, and sustainable management of for example, nettles and cotton for fibre, or increase of bee forage for the beekeeping programme.

Finally, HPC looks to build its own capacity and that of its stakeholder communities to plan, deliver, monitor and evaluate its interventions - creating and responding to feedback loops designed into the system. For this it holds PDCs, Training of Trainers (ToTs), and NGO/village group management skills trainings, facilitates farmer-to-farmer exchange, leans about making short technical training videos that can be shared by mobile phone, and hosts festivals bringing farming communities together to celebrate the abundance of what can be attained.

Learn more about the work of the Himalayan Permaculture Centre.
Donate to Himalayan Permaculture Centre with the Permaculture Association.

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